Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Whoa: San Francisco Symphony, 2021-22

Esa-Pekka Salonen
Music Director of SFS
Photo by Minna Hatinen, courtesy of San Francisco Symphony
The SFS home page currently has a beautiful rotating series of photos of Salonen conducting. 
This is one of them, made available to the press as part of the press kit.

I will post more later today, but after a quick look at the press release for the upcoming SFS season, I have nothing to complain about. With the riches on offer,  I can live without a visit from Susanna Mälkki, a favorite of mine, this year. Maybe I'll catch her in LA. There are a ton of premieres of various kinds, a great lineup of visiting artists, and a lot of music by folks whose music we haven't heard here before. (You might remember me complaining about this, especially during the season when there were more works by MTT programmed than works in total composed by women.) (I would be happy to see more works by our new music director programmed than there are this season.)

For now, I will just copy this from the top of the press release. I'll take a more careful look and examine the schedule later, but let's just say that I am excited.

Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen and San Francisco Symphony Collaborative Partners perform and curate programs throughout the season

  • Esa-Pekka Salonen and Collaborative Partner Esperanza Spalding join with Alonzo King LINES Ballet for Opening Week celebrations including Opening Night Gala and All San Francisco Concert 

  • Esa-Pekka Salonen leads live and digital projects exploring the music of Igor Stravinsky, including semi-staged performances of Oedipus Rex and Symphony of Psalms directed by Peter Sellars; Orchestral Series performances of The Rite of Spring and Violin Concerto, performed by Leila Josefowicz; and digital-only release of a new staged production of The Soldier’s Tale directed by Netia Jones
  • Esa-Pekka Salonen leads two weeks of Orchestral Series performances exploring the Greek myth of Prometheus, including Ludwig van Beethoven’s The Creatures of Prometheus, with animations by Hillary Leben; Franz Liszt’s Prometheus; and Alexander Scriabin’s Prometheus, The Poem of Fire performed by pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet
  • Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the United States premiere of Collaborative Partner Bryce Dessner’s Violin Concerto, performed by Collaborative Partner Pekka Kuusisto 
  • Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Collaborative Partner Claire Chase in San Francisco Symphony premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s Aile du songe
  • Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the United States premiere of Hannah Kendall’s Tuxedo: Vasco ‘de’ Gama
  • Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome and Pierre-Laurent Aimard in Béla Bartók’s Piano Concertos 1 and 3, captured for future audio release
  • Esa-Pekka Salonen leads Orchestral Series performances of works by John Adams, Ludwig van Beethoven, Unsuk Chin, Claude Debussy, Anders Hillborg, Hannah Kendall, Fang Man, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Olivier Messiaen, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Franz Schubert, Jean Sibelius, Steven Stucky, and Elizabeth Ogonek, among others

  • Collaborative Partner Julia Bullock performs a new version of History’s Persistent Voice, a program she created inspired by artwork and words penned by Black American artists and featuring the world premiere of two new San Francisco Symphony commissions

  • Collaborative Partner Pekka Kuusisto curates and performs in live SoundBox performances co-curated with composer and developer Jesper Nordin
  • Collaborative Partners Claire Chase and Nico Muhly each curate and perform in digital-only SoundBox programs released on SFSymphony+ in Summer 2021

  • SFSymphony+ release of György Ligeti’s Lux AeternaRamifications, and Clocks and Clouds; conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen and featuring visual artwork by media artist and director Refik Anadol 
  • SFSymphony+ release of new staged production of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen and directed by Netia Jones
  • Video capture for future broadcast and release of Opening Night Gala conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, featuring Collaborative Partner Esperanza Spalding and Alonzo King LINES Ballet

Music Director Laureate Michael Tilson Thomas
  • Four weeks of programming conducted by Music Director Laureate Michael Tilson Thomas, including Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5, Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 1, William Grant Still’s Patterns, and Michael Tilson Thomas’s Notturno
  • World premiere of Concerto for Trombone, written and performed by San Francisco Symphony Principal Trombone Timothy Higgins
  • Featured soloists include Gautier Capuçon, Demarre McGill, and Yuja Wang 

San Francisco Symphony Conducting Debuts and Returning Conductors 
  • San Francisco Symphony Orchestral Series debuts by nine visiting conductors: Gustavo Gimeno, Giancarlo Guerrero, Klaus Mäkelä, Michael Morgan, Perry So, Ruth Reinhardt, Daniel Stewart, Nathalie Stutzmann, and Xian Zhang
  • Conductor Laureate Herbert Blomstedt, San Francisco Symphony Chorus Director Ragnar Bohlin, Karina Canellakis, Gustavo Dudamel, Christoph Eschenbach, Ton Koopman, and Simone Young return to conduct the San Francisco Symphony

Guest Artists Perform with the San Francisco Symphony
  • Alonzo King LINES Ballet, J’Nai Bridges, Claire Chase, Aaron Diehl, Pekka Kuusisto, Demarre McGill, Víkingur Ólafsson, Esperanza Spalding, Wu Wei, and Melody Wilson, among others, make San Francisco Symphony Orchestral Series debuts
  • Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Yefim Bronfman, Gautier Capuçon, Leila Josefowicz, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Daniil Trifonov, Yuja Wang, and Alisa Weilerstein, among others, return to perform with the San Francisco Symphony 

Recitals: Great Performers Series and Spotlight Series
  • Soloists and ensembles presented by the Great Performers Series include Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Joshua Bell, Ray Chen, Hélène Grimaud, Sheku Kanneh-Mason with Isata Kanneh-Mason, Evgeny Kissin, Lang Lang, Itzhak Perlman, and Yuja Wang 
  • Collaborative Partner and classical singer Julia Bullock performs History’s Persistent Voice with members of the San Francisco Symphony
  • Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke performs How Do I Find You with pianist Kirill Kuzman, a program of 17 world premieres written for Cooke during the Covid-19 pandemic
  • New Spotlight Series features San Francisco Symphony recital debuts by pianist Drew Petersen, violinist Randall Goosby with pianist Zhu Wang, violinist Noa Wildschut with pianist Elisabeth Brauss, and cellist Ifetayo Ali-Landing with pianist Minhye Choi

  • Eighth season of experimental SoundBox series features four live programs, curated by drummer and producer Quentin Baxter, composer and conductor Jamie Man, Collaborative Partner and violinist Pekka Kuusisto with composer and developer Jesper Nordin, and composer and multi-instrumentalist Tyshawn Sorey

Premieres and Commissions
  • World premiere of San Francisco co-commission Song of the Flaming Phoenix (火凤凰的笙音), a new concerto for sheng written by Fang Man, performed by Wu Wei, and conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen
  • World premiere of John Corigliano’s Saxophone Concerto, a San Francisco Symphony commission performed by Timothy McAllister and conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero
  • World premiere of San Francisco Symphony commission Concerto for Trombone, written and performed by San Francisco Symphony Principal Trombone Timothy Higgins and conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas
  • World premieres of new San Francisco Symphony commissions by Camille Norment and Cécile McLorin Salvant, alongside works by Tania León, Allison Loggins-Hull, Jessie Montgomery, Carolyn Yarnell, and Pamela Z performed by Julia Bullock in History’s Persistent Voice
  • World Premieres of 17 new works for voice and piano performed by Sasha Cooke and Kirill Kuzmin in How Do I Find You
  • United States premiere of San Francisco Symphony co-commission Bryce Dessner’s Violin Concerto, performed by Pekka Kuusisto and conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen 
  • West Coast premieres of Unsuk Chin’s Subito con Forza, conducted by Gustavo Gimeno, and San Francisco Symphony co-commission Piano Concerto by Mason Bates, performed by Daniil Trifonov and conducted by Ruth Reinhardt
  • San Francisco Symphony Orchestral Series premieres of works by John Adams, Lili Boulanger, Unsuk Chin, Anna Clyne, Antonio Estévez, Adolphus Hailstork, Anders Hillborg, Hannah Kendall, Texu Kim, Zhou Long, Jimmy López, Fanny Mendelssohn, Nokuthula Ngwenyama, Elizabeth Ogonek, Younghi Pagh-Paan, Astor Piazzolla, Florence Price, Kaija Saariaho, Carlos Simon, William Grant Still, Steven Stucky, Lotta Wennäkoski, and Takashi Yoshimatsu, among others

Belated Museum Monday

Plaster cast of a door

Musée national des Monuments Français 
Paris, February, 2019


Friday, June 25, 2021

San Francisco Opera 2021-22 Season

War Memorial Opera House
December, 2019
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Yes, it's several days after the season announcement and I'm just getting to blog about the upcoming SFO season. It is...incredibly cautious, in repertory, scheduling, and health. They are very clear that this is a "transitional" season. The centennial season, 2022-23, had better be a humdinger, after this. NOT THAT THEY ARE BREATHING A WORD ABOUT IT.

Regarding health, here's how the fall season will start, at least through the performances of the opening opera:

  • Upon entry, patrons will be required to show proof of full vaccination (defined as two weeks after final shot) or a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of performance or antigen test taken within 1 day of performance (paper or electronic/photo documentation), along with a photo ID.
  • All patrons—including those who have received a COVID-19 vaccine—will be required to wear a face mask while attending performances.
  • Safety protocols include enhanced cleaning practices and availability of hand sanitizer stations throughout the building. Ventilation systems in the War Memorial Opera House meet Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. All front-of-house and backstage employees will follow rigorous safety protocols including a vaccination requirement.
  • The Box Office will seat one production at a time and use buffer seats (keeping one seat free between parties).
  • Tickets must be purchased in advance either by phone or online; at this time, tickets are not available for in-person purchase.
  • All ticket exchange fees are eliminated for the current season. Exchanges will be accepted up to two hours before the performance. 
  • For a touchless experience, tickets will be delivered digitally (print-at-home and mobile). In lieu of printed program books, a digital program will be available. 
  • The Opera is working with the War Memorial and Global Gourmet to offer concessions to patrons, including limited food and beverage service. Plans for pre-opera talks are being developed. More information will be available soon.
SFS is selling seats up to capacity, for contrast. That business of the Box Office seating one production at a time? Yikes. That's a lot of overhead. Of course, the possibility of updating the above does mean that by August, SFO could decide to just send out a season's worth of tickets to subscribers.

The fall season will be done in stagione style, where only one opera at a time is performed. That will reduce costs: each production has to be set up and struck just once. Too bad if you're coming from another location: you'll have to return for each production instead of coming for a busy weekend with three operas.

I'm getting briefly up on a soapbox here to say that Global Gourmet, which replaced the previous food service provider, isn't as good. The buffet was diminished and the one dessert I had was allegedly panna cotta, but it had the texture of something much denser. Also, for a while coffee was served on an honor system of some kind, where you bought a cup and then served yourself. That reverted to the person behind the counter having to serve you, which wildly slowed down the lines. Look, Seattle Opera has had an honor system for coffee since 2003 and it works very well for them! There are multiple stations on every floor where you leave your cash, grab a cup, and drink as much as you'd like. I saw something like this in Disney Hall last time I was there, too. It works! Trust your patrons! Make life easier for us!

On the positive side

Eun Sun Kim takes charge as SFO's music director!

The seat replacement project is complete!

There are accessibility improvements!

On the not-so-positive side

On to the actual season, which, well, see for yourself:
  • Aug. 21, 27, 29, Sept. 3, 5 - Puccini’s Tosca - Kim, conductor;  Shawna Lucey, stage director; Robert Innes Hopkins, production designer; the cast includes Ailyn Perez, Michael Fabiano, and Alfred Walker
  • Sept. 10 - “Live and in concert: The Homecoming” in the War Memorial and a free live simulcast to Oracle Park, conducted by Kim,  featuring Rachel Willis-Sorensen and Jamie Barton
  • Oct. 14, 17, 20, 22, 26, 30 - Beethoven’s Fidelio - new production,   Kim, conductor; Matthew Ozawa, stage director; Alexander V. Nichols, production designer; the cast includes Elza van den Heever,  Russell Thomas, Greer Grimsley, James Creswell, Soloman Howard,  Anne-Marie MacIntosh, Christopher Oglesby
  • Nov. 21, 23, 27, Dec. 1, 3 - Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte - new production,  Henrik Nanasi, conductor;  Michael Cavanagh, stage director; Erhard Rom, production designer; the cast includes Nicole Cabell, Irene Roberts, Ben Bliss, John Brancy, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Nicole Heaston
  • Dec. 10 - “The Future is Now” Adler Fellows Concert (in Herbst Theater)
  • June 4, 10, 12, 15, 18, 21, 26. July 2 -  Mozart's Don Giovanni - new production, Bertrand de Billy, conductor; Michael Cavanagh, stage director; Erhard Rom, production designer ; the cast includes Etienne Dupuis, Adela Zaharia, Carmen Giannattasio, Amitai Pati, Luca Pisaroni, Christina Gansch, Soloman Howard
  • June 14, 17, 19, 23, 25, July 1, 3 - Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber - Darrell Ang, conductor; Stan Lai, stage director; Tim Yip, production designer; cast includes Meigui Zhang, Yijie Shi, Hyona Kim, Karen Chia-ling Ho, Hongni Wu, Sabina Kim, Guang Yang
  • June 30 - Verdi Concert, Kim conductor, with Nicole Car,  Arturo Chacon-Cruz, Soloman Howard
One Puccini, one Beethoven, two Mozart, one Sheng, plus concerts. That's right, it's a season of five operas. LA Opera, which generally has a much smaller budget than SF, and whose endowment is literally one-tenth of SF's, has a much more varied season, which is a shocker. 

What do I like here? Well, we'll see more of Eun Sun Kim. That Tosca cast is attractive, and it's nice that SFO has noticed that more than one tenor knows the role of Cavaradossi. (Fabiano should be wonderful.) Willis-Sorensen and Barton are both terrific singers. Elza van den Heever (welcome back) after thirteen years) and Russell Thomas, nice pairing! It's always good to revive a company commission, but I admit: I would have picked Dolores Claiborne over Dream of the Red Chamber. Still, I have to commend this.  I'm happy to see some of these singers back and I look forward to hearing those who are new to me.

What don't I like? Timidity. Also, Don Giovanni, which presumably will be in the international version, which is too long and incoherent for my taste. It's....kind of a dull season.

What do I hope for? Well, considering the works left on the sidelines by the pandemic: Der Zwerg, The Revolution of Steve Jobs, and The Handmaid's Tale. Maybe we'll get those in the centennial season or some other future season. It's no secret that SFO is one of several organizations that commissioned the new Saariaho opera, which the Aix-en-Provence Festival premieres this summer. What about the opera John Adams is allegedly working on for SF, Anthony and Cleopatra?



I've been to two live events in 2021, and as I started to get a ticket to a third, I was reminded of a....benefit (?)...of not having bought any tickets in the last year-plus: I spent just about no time in a state of annoyance at terrible organization web sites, ridiculous ticketing policies, and outrageous fees.

I was most of the way into buying a ticket to an event I would really like to attend when I hit one of the latter: $12 to buy an individual ticket on line ($20 if you're buying a subscription). Ticket prices for the event in question range from $25 to $105 and the fee you pay is $12 regardless of whether you're upstairs or downstairs.

So you could pay from 12%-ish to 50%-ish as the fee for your single ticket. I do not think that it costs the organization in question $12 to produce and send you the electronic version of your ticket. Maybe the fee was determined by taking the cost their ticketing system and dividing it by the number of tickets they might sell?

I can afford to pay the $12, but I'm really affronted by it. It's also not in the best interests of the organization to charge this: That $12 fee could keep someone from attending, if they can only afford to buy one low-priced ticket at a time. And of course annoying any of your patrons isn't a good idea: why  annoy audience members, the people you want to buy tickets and give you money and maybe get charitable matches from their employers?

I would really like every organization to reconsider their fees and the potential impact of these fees on ticket sales and good will.

Friday Photo


January, 2021

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Friday, June 18, 2021

Lede by Johannes Brahms

Davies Symphony Hall
Photo by me

I've got a review published today, in an unusual location: in Joshua Kosman's absence, I reviewed the San Francisco Symphony for the SF Chronicle. It was a fine program, with a terrific Brahms violin concerto that was quite different from the last time I heard it live, a more extroverted account by Christian Tetzlaff under MTT. The more I hear Augustin Hadelich, born in Italy to German parents, now a U.S. citizen, the more I like him.

I'm going to get up on a soapbox now: I was thrilled by the applause after the first movement, I joined in, and I think it's high time for a return to 19th century norms, where such applause was expected. I never want to have to sit on my hands after the first movement of Mahler's mighty Eighth Symphony again! And Salonen and Hadelich accepted the applause, looking pleased by it. More like this, and fellow audience members, no shushing, no finger-wagging, no protests!

Thursday, June 17, 2021

JFC: In 2021, Accessibility Should Be Automatic

I love it when I receive a "video preview of our season" from a major arts org that is so ham-handed that it is all visual, print and film combined, meaning that if I were, say, a person with no or reduced vision, I would hear a perky soundtrack but learn nothing about the season. 

JFC, it's 2021, major arts org, do better, will you?

Also, the visuals are...bad. There's a list of the season's presentation that is so short you can't read the whole thing even if you can see it; for each presentation, there's a visual that is too damn busy and piles on too much too fast.

San Francisco Opera: July Streaming

Christine Goerke as Elektra
Photo by Cory Weaver / Courtesy of San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera just announced its next round of streaming, which might as well be called Heavy Hitters of the 2010s or something like that. Nothing light or lightweight in this series.

  • July 10: JenufaJiří Bĕlohlávek; Malin Bystrom, William Burden, Karita Mattila, Scott Quin, Jill Grove. On my list of "greatest things I have ever seen," owing to the tremendous cast and conducting. From 2016.
  • July 17: Les Troyens; Sir Donald Runnicles; Anna Caterina Antonacci, Brian Mulligan, Bryan Hymel, Philip Skinner, Nian Wang, Susan Graham, Sasha Cooke, Rene Barbara, Chong Wang, Christian Van Horn. Loved the production (mostly); on my list of "greatest things I have ever seen," owing to the tremendous cast and conducting. From 2015.
  • July 24: Elektra; Henrik Nanasi; Christine Goerke, Adrianne Pieczonka, Michaela Martens, Alfred Walker, Robert Brubaker. Loved the production; on my list of "greatest things I have ever seen," owing to the tremendous cast and conducting. Sorry to be repeating myself, but....! From 2017.
  • July 31: Luisa Miller; Nicola Luisotti; Leah Crocetto, Michael Fabiano, Vitaliy Bilyy, Andrea Silvestrelli, Ekaterina Semenchuk. Very well sung and conducted, weakish early Verdi. From 2015.
As before, these programs go live on a Saturday and are available until late the next day. If you have a San Francisco Opera web site login, there's an extended period during which you can see these.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Friday Photo

South Kensington Tube Station
London, November, 2019

Not a great photo, but the area around this station will be radically redeveloped in the near future.


Tuesday, June 08, 2021

San Francisco Opera Announces Date of Season Announcement

All right, here's news about the news we've all been waiting for: San Francisco Opera will announce the 2021-22 season in two weeks, on Tuesday, June 22, 2021, at 4 p.m. Pacific Time:



In just a few short weeks, San Francisco Opera will announce its programming for this upcoming season. After well over 500 days out of our beloved opera house, we are beyond excited for the return of live opera on our own stage and Eun Sun Kim's inaugural year as music director.

We hope you will join us on June 22 for the reveal of this exciting season ahead!

You can register at this URL. Note that you will be asked to log in.

March, 2022, is Not That Far Away: BSO at Carnegie Hall

The Boston Symphony Orchestra just announced two performormances at Carnegie Hall in March, 2022, and hoo boy, they look great:

• The New York premiere of a new violin concerto by composer Unsuk Chin (a BSO co-commission), performed by soloist Leonidas Kavakos, paired with Ives' The Unanswered Question and Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, on March 14 

 A concert version of Berg's opera Wozzeck, featuring Bo Skovhus in the title role and Christine Goerke as Marie, on March 15

Chin is a terrific composer, so that violin concerto is a noteworthy new work. Skovhus was sensational in Michael Jarrell's Bérénice in Paris three years ago, and I have the highest regard for Goerke. That will be a Wozzeck to remember. 

Monday, June 07, 2021

Museum Mondays

Edge of a Wooden Panel (I think)
Bavarian National Museum, Munich
August, 2015


Sunday, June 06, 2021

Ojai 2021

Good news from southern California: the Ojai Festival, music director John Adams, will take place this year, in September rather than June. There will be several world premieres (Sunt Lacrimae Rerum (these are the tears of things) by Dylan Mattingly and the revised version of Gabriela Ortiz’s La Calaca, along with the West Coast Premiere of Samuel Adams’ Chamber Concerto and the first concert performance of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Objets Trouvés) and a typically rich schedule, which is below the cut. The festival's dates are September 16 to 19, 2021.

Friday, June 04, 2021

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

So Nu?

War Memorial Opera. House
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Various musical organizations have announced when they will resume public, in-person performances:

  • LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl and at WDCH
  • Seattle Opera
  • LA Opera
  • Metropolitan Opera (if they can settle their various labor disputes)
San Francisco Symphony has been playing live to a reduced-capacity audience (and I really need to get tickets to see them!). San Francisco Opera....bupkis. The only live performances haven't even been socially distanced: they've been outdoors in a temporary facility with sound transmitted by radio to a small audience of people stuck in their cars.

It would be nice to know what's happening in the fall, which is....only three months off.